Why a Film Like Jai Bhim is of Paramount Importance
A senator from America’s conservative right wing Republican party made a comment a few months ago that India should take a good hard look at its caste system before the exports of our soft power (read: our cricketers and movie stars) take stands or make statements against racial injustice in the United States.
In a rare exception for America’s GOP, he was not wrong.
For those of us living in India’s metropolitan cities, racism in the west and the BLM movement are much more sought after topics of discussion than any of the social injustice happening right here in our very own country. Heck, my city-bred generation is in all likelihood blissfully unaware that the concept of untouchability is still very much a part and parcel of people’s everyday lives and not some ancient concept that was followed in the times of our Vedic society.
That is why a film like Jai Bhim is of paramount importance. And equally important is the fact of a superstar like Suriya throwing his weight behind it.
For starters, let us begin to educate our brethren of the simple fact that we still live in a truly backward country, where the value of human life is (in vast swaths of the country) decided simply based on which caste one was (un)fortunate enough to be born in.
Jai Bhim does that, and for this reason it immediately finds a place on the upper shelf – one which is reserved for films that need to be made and seen.
But the best part of about this film written by T.J Gnanavel is that it does not simply rest its laurels on the shoulders of its subject matter, but rather works significantly hard to tell a very cleverly plotted and engaging story.
Jai Bhim is currently the highest rated film on IMDB with a score of 9.5/10, while also becoming the first Indian film to achieve the feat, it also surpassed the ratings of The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather. And while this feat is likely a temporary stroke of extremely good luck for the makers, Jai Bhim is indeed a truly meritorious work of art.
Speaking of Art – one would not immediately associate that word with a film like Jai Bhim – because it is a mainstream film – one which is more concerned with manipulating its audiences’ emotions rather than presenting a truly fine-tuned and nuanced cinematic experience that shows of the maker’s control over their craft. But if one were to talk of art as a social instrument and not simply as an aesthetic commodity, then Jai Bhim is unquestionably a piece of art.
The film is at once a socio-political statement, a courtroom procedural, a non-linear thriller, and a love story.
It tells the story of Rajakanna, an untouchable from rural Tamil Nadu’s snake killer caste who is falsely accused of a robbery and then tortured in police custody, his pregnant wife Sangini who runs from pillar to post in her delicate condition to get justice for her husband, and the Chennai bred young firebrand lawyer Chandru who fights her case.
Nothing we are told in the film is new (or should be at least) – but what works for this film is its clever making. To begin with, the film uses non-linear story telling very smartly to turn what would have been a straight forward courtroom drama into a thriller which has the audience guessing the actual particulars of the crime committed till the very last scene.
Another major plus of this film is that it is a mainstream commercial film – and one that uses all the tropes of such a venture in the best possible ways. Music, high-drama, fast pacing – but all in sync with and always complimenting the narrative, the characters, and the intent of the film. In that way, it reminds one of the Bollywood of the 80s which dealt with topics such as corruption, inequality, and communal divides with flare and aplomb churning out films which will both entertain you for three hours and also leave you with a lot of think about. Films like Damini, Mr. India, Ghayal, and so on.
The director of this film is clearly not interested in showing off his auctorial skills. But that does not mean his craft is any less than the likes of the Aditya Vikram Senguptas or the Anurag Kashyaps of this world. The performances he extracts from his cast are exactly what they need to be – evocative. Yes, the pitch is a high one, but that was the need of the hour in a film like this. As always, the leading man has to be singularly mentioned. Fortunately, this time it is well deserved. There are two poles to acting. One is to be restrained. And the other is to be powerful. Only a handful of actors at the very top of their craft manage to marry these two poles. Suriya is one of them. In a film that is telling a very important story in the garb of mainstream cinema, Suriya’s presence and performance provides the much needed balance which gives the film its final tone and vibe.
Yes, the film does paint things with broad strokes, but in a country like India to get across to the masses you need to do that. And for a film like Jai Bhim, it is of utmost importance to get through to the masses. This is why I would go as far as to say that Jai Bhim is a much more important film than say the superbly made and celebrated Court (2013). I mention Court because it dealt with similar things – caste injustice playing out in India’s legal system – and told its story in a very different way. But a film like court will never say anything to 90 out of a 100 Indians. A film like Jai Bhim will.
Even though this is a film review, I will not talk about the cinematic elements that undoubtedly contribute to making this a powerful experience. Elements like the score, the cinematography, the editing, the sound etc. That is because Jai Bhim is not about those things. Jai Bhim is about the millions and millions of forgotten people who still live in the gutters of our country underneath our very noses who stories are screaming to be heard. Hear them. Start with this film. Till then, Jai Bhim.